The cost of feeding a family in the capital rose more than 20 per cent during the pandemic, according to a new study by Ottawa Public Health.
It costs at least $1,088 per month to feed healthy meals to a family of four in the city, up from $901 in 2019, says Ottawa Public Health’s 2022 Nutritious Food Basket survey.
For those living on Ontario Works financial assistance, or for single people living on the Ontario Disability Support Program income, paying for items like fruits and vegetables means going without or going into debt, the report found.
Researchers looked at 61 nutritious foods from various categories and tracked their prices at 14 stores in Ottawa — 12 in urban areas and two in rural parts of the city — between May 17 and June 6, 2022.
Food was selected using the updated Canada Food Guide and covered four categories: vegetables and fruit, protein foods, whole grains, and fats and oils. The study did not include infant foods, processed foods or allergen-free foods.
This year’s study is the first in two years. Ottawa Public Health suspended the survey in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
“The results of the survey consistently show that individuals and families living on fixed or low incomes do not have enough funds remaining at the end of the month to afford their bills while also putting healthy food on the table,” the 2022 study found.
“Families often choose between paying for fixed expenses (such as rent and utilities), other necessities (such as clothing, child care, medication, transportation, and dental care) and buying groceries.”
About one in seven households in Ottawa can’t afford healthy food, according to the report. Those households often face related challenges, like poor mental health, chronic health conditions and higher rates of infection, bad dental health and injury, the study said.
Public health officials made a number of recommendations to make food more affordable. The agency is calling for more social assistance benefits, jobs that pay a living wage, a basic income, affordable housing, public child care, as well as reduced income tax for low-income families. Public health officials also recommend free tax filing support in the city.